Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happenings: Mayor McLean Talks Fire

I think the City did a solid job handling both the fire and the I-5 accident/closure. Information is a critical resource under such circumstances, and they provided it. The City of Santa Clarita website devoted its entire front page to providing relevant details and information was updated frequently.

Mayor McLean's thoughts and thanks appear below. She reminds us "the Buckweed and Ranch fires took homes, out-buildings and scorched the land,but the most important thing is that no one lost their life!" The letter also includes some pretty amazing figures (e.g., a quarter-million hits on the City site in 24-hours) and the understatement of the year: "October has been a stressful time in the Santa Clarita Valley." Yes. Yes it has.

October 25, 2007

As our communities begin the task of getting our homes and our lives back to some semblance of normalcy, I know that for many of you, the road to recovery will be a long one. Some of our residents lost their homes or suffered some damage to their homes or property as a result of the Buckweed Fire and Ranch fires. We have a number of residents with roof damage from the high winds, who are working to make sure they have a secure roof over their heads as we enter the winter season. Still others are suffering from the trauma of being evacuated and the threat of losing their homes and property.

No doubt, October has been a stressful time in the Santa Clarita Valley. It was just two weeks ago that the tragic I-5 tunnel accidents occurred, temporarily closing the I-5 and claiming the lives of three people. While the I-5 opened fairly quickly, the northbound I-5 tunnel will remain closed until clean up and inspection can be completed. The first responders on this disaster did an amazing job. While this was absolutely a tragedy, it really could have been much worse, with more deaths and damage.

I want to commend the amazing work by the CHP, L.A. County Sheriffs, L.A. County Fire, Caltrans, LAPD and our City, all of whom worked together in the Emergency Operations Center after the I-5 tunnel disaster. Hours and hours of training, many drills and scenarios, and decades of experience all came together in the early morning hours of October 13. While law enforcement and the City provided the necessary road closures, detours and security, the fire department worked to put out the fire and clear the tunnel of debris. Once this was done, Caltrans assessed the damage and the freeway was opened. Caltrans has taken a lot of heat in recent months for other issues but you should know that they did an amazing job working on this incident. During the freeway closure, while the Fire Department was clearing out the tunnel, Caltrans took the opportunity to perform some much-needed maintenance work on the freeway, including painting stripes, clearing trash, weeds and debris and repairing potholes. Now that’s efficiency!

Then, just a week later, the strong winds and dry weather created the “perfect storm” for the many fires that still rage in Southern California. Here in our Valley, the Buckweed and Ranch fires took homes, out-buildings and scorched the land, but the most important thing is that no one lost their life! Homes can be rebuilt and the land will recover in time. The County is working right now to construct a new bridge at Vasquez and Bouquet that will open within the next two weeks. It is important that we stay focused on the fact that we will recover.

Right now, Local Assistance Centers are being set up to assist residents with the myriad of paperwork that will be required to work with FEMA. If you need this kind of assistance, please call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to register. The two Local Assistance Centers will be open 7 days a week at the City’s George A. Caravalho Sports Complex Activity Center-Canyon Rooms (A&B), 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway Santa Clarita, CA 91350-2974 and the Castaic Sports Complex, 31230 North Castaic Road, Castaic, CA 91384.

I cannot say enough about the men and women who responded to all aspects of this fire. From our local fire department and law enforcement personnel, namely L.A. County Fire and L.A. County Sheriffs’ and CHP, to the many fire fighters who came here from out of the area, our County staff, the Forest Service, Cal Fire, to our own City staff, our community was definitely in capable hands! In the City of Santa Clarita’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Acting City Manager and our Emergency Services Director Ken Striplin led our City’s efforts, including incident management, communications, supplies, logistics, planning, shelter, and a lot more.

An information telephone bank was established early-on to provide residents with real-time information about evacuations and road closures. The phone bank handled over 3,600 calls in a 12 hour period last Monday! This was critical in assisting the Sheriff’s department by allowing them to perform more critical work. Our City website and channel 20 provided real-time information about the fire and its impact to our residents. In the first 24-hour period, a total of 261,000 unique page views were logged on our City website; more than the number of visitors we normally see in a three month period!

In the aftermath of the fires, we’ve received a number of phone calls and emails from residents and people from out of the area who used our website to get information that they were otherwise unable to obtain. The 24 hour live broadcasts by our Hometown Station KHTS was an invaluable service to the community.

The City’s Central park had been transformed into a fire department base camp, providing the hundreds of fire fighters in the area with a comfortable place to rest in between shifts. Little things the general public will most likely never see such as providing computers and telephones to emergency responders, organizing volunteers in the community, serving as a liaison with the all emergency response agencies, including the Red Cross, and many, many other activities not only helped during the crisis, but will go a long way in our recovery efforts from these devastating fires. I know that I speak for our entire City Council when I say how very proud I am of our city staff, our first responders, volunteers, and our community for their caring and action during these difficult days.

Finally, to assist local people with their recovery efforts, the Santa Clarita Valley Disaster Coalition, a 501C3 organization set up after Hurricane Katrina, is accepting donations of money or gift cards. Your donations can be dropped off at the City’s building and safety office on the first floor of city hall; at KHTS-AM 1220, the Signal newspaper or at the Senior Center. You will be given a receipt for your donation. If you wish to mail a donation, please mail it to: KHTS-AM 1220, c/o the SCV Disaster Coalition, 27225 Camp Plenty Road #8, Santa Clarita, CA 91351.

Although the immediate disaster has passed, many of our friends and neighbors will spend time recovering, both physically and emotionally. Let us all remember to be kind to one another, to first seek how we can be of service to each other and to extend ourselves to those in need.
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